Rostered routine testing requirement to be lifted for healthcare workers on March 21

Medical staff transfer a suspected Covid-19 patient at Singapore General Hospital. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - Singapore reached a milestone in its battle against Covid-19 on Saturday (March 19) as the total number of infections recorded in the country crossed the one million mark, even as the spread of the virus continues to slow down.

With the number of new Covid-19 cases falling and the Omicron wave believed to have peaked, a range of safe management measures were simplified last week, and on Monday, the rostered routine testing (RRT) requirement for healthcare workers will be lifted.

RRT, which requires workers to undergo supervised testing every two weeks, was lifted for most sectors last month.

But workers in the healthcare and eldercare sectors as well as settings with children under five years old, who are ineligible for vaccination, had to continue.

Doctors that The Straits Times spoke to on Saturday confirmed that a circular was sent out by the Ministry of Health to say that the mandatory routine tests would end for hospital staff members on Monday.

While they welcomed the move as part of Singapore's shift towards endemic status, they also said the onus will now be on healthcare staff to ensure they are well to protect their patients.

Dr Ben Ng, an endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said: "It is helpful as we are trying to reach endemic status. But the problem is that we treat vulnerable patients as well, so this puts the onus on healthcare staff to make sure you are testing yourself and checking your own health regularly."

He added that the suspension of mandatory routine testing was going to happen sooner or later, but being flexible and adapting to the situation is the most important.

"We must be prepared to be mobile about these kind of things and check the numbers. If we find more patients being admitted, we might have to change again," he said.

Dr Leong Choon Kit, family physician at Mission Medical Clinic, said suspending testing does not mean healthcare workers stop testing themselves entirely.

"If our staff exhibit signs and symptoms of a Covid-19 infection, we will swab ourselves."

He added that there is little advantage to be derived from routine testing, with a high percentage of the population being vaccinated.

Singapore reported 10,244 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, with 10,102 local cases and 142 imported ones. The total case tally now stands at 1,007,158.

The Covid-19 weekly infection growth rate remained below one for the 18th consecutive day, holding steady at 0.70, similar to the day before.

The rate refers to the ratio of community cases for the past week over the week before. A rate of more than one indicates the number of new weekly Covid-19 cases is increasing.

The chief executive of Northeast Medical Group, Dr Tan Teck Jack, said his staff would continue testing until April 1 to play it safe.

"We are still seeing quite a number of Covid-19 positive patients visiting our clinics," he said.

"It does not take a lot of time to do the rostered routine test, however we recognise that Singapore should move towards endemic mode."

He added that staff are also told to stay home if they are not feeling well, and continue their daily testing until they are recovered.

"It is no different from how we have been training our healthcare workers before the pandemic, that one should not be turning up for work if they are sick," he said.

It is unclear if or when a similar easing will take place for the eldercare sector and workers who handle children under 5.

A swimming coach and a pre-school teacher, who both declined to be named, said they had not heard any updates on the matter and assumed it would be status quo come Monday.

The number of confirmed cases in Singapore has stopped being a meaningful indicator of the pandemic situation for some time, and health authorities around the world are now focusing more on hospitalisations and the overall load on their healthcare systems.

The vast majority of recent cases here - 99.7 per cent - have mild or no symptoms.

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